September 22, 2021

Employee mental health is your business

According to a US Department of Labor summary, four million people left their jobs in April 2021 alone, and trends show that this mass exodus will continue. There is a laundry list of reasons why, but mental health plays a huge factor in The Great Resignation. After a year and a half of uncertainty, fear, and loss, maintaining one’s mental health is increasingly challenging across the workforce. A PAN Communications survey revealed that 77% of employees searching for new opportunities wanted to work for a company that prioritizes mental health initiatives and overall well-being.

It’s more important than ever that our colleagues feel a sense of community with each other. Acknowledging the state of the world and its effect on our collective psyches is essential to building the psychological safety, sense of belonging, and support that employees everywhere are seeking.

The state of mental health in the workplace: 

  • 78% of the workforce says the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. 
  • 85% say their mental health issues at work negatively impact their home lives.
  • 85% say their mental health issues are causing sleep deprivation, poor physical health, reduced happiness at home, suffering family relationships, or isolation from friends.
  • 7 out of 10 people say this has been the most stressful year of their working lives.
  • 76% of people believe their employer should be doing more to protect their mental health.

The boundary between personal and professional life is often murky, leaving employers and employees unclear on whether or not they should address mental health in the workplace. Only 30 percent of employees say they feel comfortable talking to their manager about their mental health. While 96% of companies worldwide have provided some form of additional mental health resources during the pandemic, only one in six employees feel supported.

Make space to acknowledge mental health at work.

Addressing mental health in the workplace will require employers to open the channels of communication. Depression, anxiety, and addiction are often taboo subjects in American culture, and the construct of professionalism only amplifies that tension. Your goal as a leader is not to solve your employee’s depression but rather to open the communication and create the trust needed for employees to be honest and up-front about what is going on for them personally. 

Start by reflecting on your organization’s existing methods of communication. Is there a straightforward procedure for struggling employees to reach out and flag their concerns? Is there a dedicated person to talk to, or better yet, a team of people the employee can choose from? Suppose an employee comes to an HR leader in your organization expressing their concerns about meeting deadlines and essential business milestones due to their mental health. What is the next step in making sure that employee is supported? 

Increasing communication means: 

  • sharing your awareness of the trends for the population at large. 
  • sparking a conversation about what would be needed for employees to feel supported.
  • asking your employees directly, privately, how they are doing and what they need to feel supported.

Create an ecosystem of support.

Mindset shifts start at the top. Leaders must model the practice of prioritizing one’s mental health proactively to create a cultural understanding that this is not only acceptable but also encouraged. Employees are not likely to take advantage of time off, even when it’s offered, if their managers and leaders don’t take time off, or if they’ve seen others punished for doing so.

Assessment question: Do your people feel comfortable taking a day off to care for their well-being before they get sick? 

Determine who can or should be the go-to person or team for wellness check-ins. Consider a quarterly wellness check-in to sit down and discuss an employee’s holistic well-being. Ask them what, if anything, they need to feel supported. Be direct and intentional. Build trust slowly and consistently and watch the awkwardness melt away. Empower your employees to speak up when they hit a rough patch. Accept that employees may not have all the answers about what they need, and acknowledge that life at work is only one element of the equation of their mental health.

Assessment question: What are your current metrics for holistic employee wellness? 

Big things are happening in the world of work. It goes beyond the Great Resignation, to an employee-led culture. It’s been clear that this is a fertile time for change toward cultivating more compassion in the workplace. The people that make up an organization are its most valuable resource, hands down. How we care for each other in times like these will always be most important. 

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